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How Super Zoom Lenses Work and How to Choose One for Your Photography

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If you're a photographer and you’d like to know more about lenses, then you’ll love our free course, What Every Photographer Should Know About Lenses. In this lesson, you’ll learn about super zooms and find out what you need to know about using one.

What Is a Super Zoom?

Long lensLong lensLong lens
Long lens / Envato Elements

If you could only take one lens on vacation, it should be a super zoom. Super zooms have an incredible range, from the wider angle to the super telephoto, but they can suffer from image quality issues.

Super zooms are the ultimate in travel lenses because they cover such a wide range of focal lengths:

  • For full-frame cameras, you’ll see lenses around 28mm to 200mm or maybe 28mm to 300 mm.
  • For APS-C, you'll find lenses that are in the neighbourhood of 18mm to 270mm, or 16mm to 300mm.
  • In Micro 4/3, you'll see lenses like 14mm to 140mm or 14mm to 150mm.

Field of View and Performance Trade-Off

All of these lenses have very similar fields of view, which go from fairly wide to telephoto and super telephoto ranges. With this outstanding range come some serious trade-offs. Most of the long-range zoom lenses have variable wide apertures. Some start with a reasonably fast f/2.8 or f/3.5 at its widest setting, but by the time it reaches the telephoto range, you're at f/5.6 or higher.

Long-range zoom lenses may deliver acceptable optical performance for hobbyists and the casual shooter but probably won’t satisfy advanced users. These optical defects are more prevalent at the longer focal lengths because higher magnification also magnifies a lens's imperfections.

That being said, sometimes you don't have space in your bag for several lenses, or maybe the budget isn't there for lenses to cover the same focal lengths. If this is the case, a super zoom lens might be the right lens for you. Let's check out what a super zoom looks like in action.

Super Zoom in Action

Outside

Tamron 18-270mm lens at 18mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 18mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 18mm
Tamron 18-270mm lens at 18mm / David Bode

This image was taken with a Tamron 18mm to 270 mm variable aperture, image stabilized lens, at 18mm.

Tamron 18-270mm lens at 270mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 270mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 270mm
Tamron 18-270mm lens at 270mm / David Bode

To give you an idea of what this lens is capable of, here’s the other end of the range, at 270mm, so you can see that this lens has a ridiculous focal range.

It's not the sharpest lens—it has a variable aperture and more distortion because of that big focal range that it has—but it's still a decent lens to have in your kit, especially if you can only take one lens around with you.

It's very convenient and fast to deploy and to start shooting images.

Tamron 18-270mm lens at 270mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 270mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 270mm
Tamron 18-270mm lens at 270mm / David Bode

If you were going to take one lens with you on a trip, this would be the lens that you'd want to have in your bag. A super zoom lens is a great option. It gives you a tremendous amount of variation in the shots that you can get.

Tamron 18-270mm lens at 109mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 109mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 109mm
Tamron 18-270mm lens at 109mm / David Bode

You can change the position and focal length to compose your shot and get lots of options with how you compose those images. A super zoom lens isn’t the highest quality optic that you can put on the front of your camera, and if you're shooting inside it's even trickier because of the amount of light you get in because of that variable aperture. None of them are very fast at all—this particular lens starts at f/3.5 and goes down to f/6.3 at the long end, and you'll see a lot of similar lenses in the same range.

Inside

Tamron 18-270mm lens at 84mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 84mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 84mm
Tamron 18-270mm lens at 84mm / David Bode

At the zoo, this lens captured a lot of good images—you can get some nice tight shots of the animals, and then go wide if you need to. Inside, though, even with lights, it’s hitting ISOs of 2000 and 4000 because it’s not a very fast lens.

Outside, when there's more light, it definitely works a lot better. It allows you to get down to f/8, which improves the sharpness a lot, especially when you're at the long end of the lens stopping down one or two stops.

Summary

Tamron 18-270mm lens at 55mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 55mmTamron 18-270mm lens at 55mm
Tamron 18-270mm lens at 55mm / David Bode

This is one of the most fun lenses to have because it means you can travel light, and it works for a lot of subjects. Shooting at higher apertures like f/8 and f/11 isn’t so bad because generally at longer focal lengths, you’re likely still going to have that nice out-of-focus background that looks great. A super zoom gives you a lot of good options, and that makes it a great all-rounder lens to have.

If you only have one lens, you’re still probably better off with a standard zoom rather than a super zoom because it’s faster. You’ll be able to stop down to somewhere in the region of f/2.8, which means it’s going to be sharper at those wide open apertures and have less optical distortion.

If you're looking for a lens to take with you on holiday, though, or you need to travel light when space is limited, then a super zoom lens is definitely the way to go.

Learn More About Lenses

About the Video Author

David Bode created the video course that includes this lesson. Dave is an expert on video and audio production, and he lives in the upstate NY area. He works as a camera operator, editor, inventor, motion graphics designer, recording engineer, and studio musician.

Marie Gardiner wrote the text version of this lesson, and it was edited and published by Jackson Couse. Jackson is a photographer and the editor of the Photo & Video section of Envato Tuts+. He lives in Canada.

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